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Critics of the July 14 nuclear deal with Iran railed against it on the grounds that it would embolden what they argue is Tehran’s destabilizing behavior in the Middle East. The reasoning goes like this: lifting sanctions gives Iran access to tens of billions of dollars that will flow to fund disruptive activities and lets Iran freely pursue its regional ambitions without fear of reprisals.
The cynics had a point. On the heels of the nuclear deal, Russia’s stepped-up military involvement in Syria came hand-in-hand with Iran’s redoubling of its armed support for the blood-soaked Assad regime. But to the surprise of many, Russia simultaneously opened up a parallel diplomatic track that now includes the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Britain, Egypt, Germany, France, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Unlike previous diplomatic rounds on the fate of Syria, this time Iran was also invited. The participation of the Iranians—a pivotal player in the Syrian civil war—would not have been possible without the successful conclusion of the nuclear deal. And if, in fact, there is an eventual political settlement in Syria, it will have been made possible in no small part by the nuclear deal.
While critics of the deal in Tehran and Washington cringe at any public acknowledgement of this fact, the connection between the two diplomatic initiatives is undeniably strong. This doesn’t mean that the Iran nuclear deal will prove to be a panacea for Syria and the region’s other problems, and predicting such would be naïve. But it would be equally irresponsible to overlook how this historic deal just might be the catalyst that has enabled the current negotiations on Syria.